Wordle: two’s company, three’s a cloud

The word “cloud” refers primarily to the familiar watery wisps overhead. It can also refer to analogous physical phenomena (a cloud of dust, an electron cloud, a cloud in glass or translucent stone), or to figurative concepts (a cloud of suspicion or gloom hanging over someone). In computing, cloud has acquired other meanings, such as cloud computing, which I won’t be writing about, and word clouds or tag clouds, which I will. If you already know this terrain, feel free to skip forward.

A simple example is the category cloud on the right hand side of this blog. [Edit: I have since replaced the category cloud with a tag cloud.] First, I categorise and label (“tag”) each of my blog posts. For example, this post is categorised under blogging and is tagged blogging, tagging, toys, words, Wordle, tag clouds, and word clouds. The resulting metadata can be displayed automatically, thereby informing visitors of the general content of the blog, instantly and aesthetically.

The size of a tag in a cloud is directly proportionate to its popularity; a glance at the category tag cloud shows that “usage” is my most frequently used category tag at the time of writing. Clicking on a tag will select the content with that tag, or in this case within that category. Word clouds have been applied to all sorts of text, from politicians’ speeches to rugby tweets. Smashing Magazine has an excellent presentation of tag cloud examples and uses.

That’s the summary: now for the fun. Wordle is a toy and a tool that creates word clouds from any text you give it. Its website is a model of good design and clear information. Once you have created a Wordle cloud, you can modify it by colour, font type, and tag alignment. You can also remove common words (such as the, to, and, it, and of) from English or from 25 other languages. This gives the cloud a much more accurate flavour of the submitted content.

Now that Sentence first has been on the go for a while, I decided to give it the Wordle treatment. I included post titles and text, but not tags or comments (or this post). Here is the result, which you can click on to enlarge:

Stan Carey - wordle Sentence first

Some random observations. Because there is no stemming, the cloud includes common and commonly; usage, use, useful, and used. Certain words appear because of their prominence in posts dedicated to them, such as however, principal, and mwdeu. Others appear because they feature a few times in a set phrase, such as death in Blue Screen of Death, and splices in comma splice.

One thing I love about Wordle clouds is the way arbitrary sentence fragments emerge, often incongruously and sometimes almost poetically, like the results of using cut-ups.* In the Sentence first word cloud I see the sensible advice “first make word”, the Tarzanesque “language good”, and the more lyrical but enigmatic “whether sometimes something though Irish better”.

And now, for fun and mystery, here is an unidentified word cloud:

Stan Carey - wordle mystery

Can you guess or work out its source? If you don’t know or don’t want to guess, you could tell me your favourite fragments. All words are lower case, and apostrophes are omitted, so id means I’d, ill means I’ll, etc.

If you want a clue, you will find one in invisible writing (i.e. white font) on the next line. Highlight (left-click and drag) to see the hidden text.

It has already been mentioned on this blog!

If it proves too difficult, I’ll supply the answer or another clue next week. In the meantime, Happy Easter and happy wordling.

* Wikipedia page on cut-ups; mp3 of William S Burroughs describing the technique.

6 Responses to Wordle: two’s company, three’s a cloud

  1. Claudia says:

    I’m trying very hard. I even looked at all your posts, as you’re saying it appeared before on your blog. I didn’t see anything that could be connected with this wordle. So here I go: Yes, I suppose it’s always better that an old man would be kind, and still loves the woman he married.

    I really don’t have a clue, but the words are there and it’s the way things should be anyhow. So I’ll stick with what I see…till you tell me otherwise.

  2. Stan says:

    Bless you for trying, Claudia. When I returned to this after Easter I realised how difficult it would be to guess. The words are simple and not very revealing of their source. A few more clues today, and the answer later or tomorrow. The source text is a chapter in a book by an Irish writer. The chapter’s narrator is female, and its last word is “Yes”.

  3. Claudia says:

    James Joyce:Ulysses…

    …and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes
    and then he asked me would I yes…
    and first I put my arms around him yes
    and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfumed yes
    and his heart was going like mad
    and yes I said yes I will yes.

    Is the prize a trip to Ireland? I’m already packing my bag…

  4. Stan says:

    Congratulations Claudia! And sorry for any inconvenience caused. The prize is a trip to Ireland, but unfortunately only a virtual one.

    (Edit: The text of the eighteenth chapter (or episode) of Ulysses is here.)

  5. Claudia says:

    I guess that, in order to get a real trip, I should have given you the chapter. I’ll know better next time. Anyhow, it’s always nice to visit Ireland, with photos, books and Doubtful Egg’s musical improvisation posts. Sometimes, Bock’s language is a puzzle but his feelings are always clear if not the words he uses. Great country and fascinating people!

  6. Are You Focused on the Right Things?…

    A great web program called Wordle allows users to type in words or a website and create a Word Cloud from the text. You can personalize it, change the colors, the style, how many words you want to use, etc. There are two things that I really like about…

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